Alexa Gedigian is a student at the University of Florida and Vice President of the all-female a cappella group: The Sedoctaves. This is her second review for The A Cappella Blog.
University of Florida held the Southern Quarterfinal for the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella in Gainesville for the second year in a row on January 26. This sold-out show was hosted by UF’s co-ed group No Southern Accent and featured eight groups.
University of Miami’s BisCaydence
University of Florida’s No Southern Accent
University of Florida’s The Staff
University of Central Florida’s KeyHarmony
University of Central Florida’s Gemini Blvd.
Florida State University’s Reverb
Loyola University’s Belles
University of Central Florida’s So Noted
Guest Groups: University of Florida’s The Sedoctaves and Theater Strike Force
University of Florida’s only all-female a cappella group The Sedoctaves opened the show with a fierce rendition of “I Am Woman,” made popular by Jordin Sparks, in the style of a cappella powerhouse Musae. The Sedoctaves proved that even though they weren’t competing this year, they are still a feminine force to be reckoned with. Lindsay Howerton of Varsity Vocals gave the standard announcements and introduced the two dashing emcees of the night and alumni of UF’s own No Southern Accent: Daniel Doan and Nic Parsons.
The first group on stage was University of Miami’s co-ed BisCaydence. The first song of the night was “Zombie” by The Cranberries. There was a very dramatic beginning as they built momentum. Melissa Simmons had a really strong, soulful solo that was a great fit with the song. The soprano special voice was really beautiful and matched up with what I remembered from The Cranberries’ version. I would have liked more contrast with the quieter verses with bigger choruses. The percussive sounds at the end were so unexpected, but very cool!
BisCaydence’s second piece was “Ready To Go” by Panic! At The Disco. There was a “girls versus boys” struggle in the choreography, which I’m just not sure worked with the song’s message. There was a lack of chemistry between the soloist and the special voice response in the chorus. The vocal percussionist really had a chance to shine and his beat laid the foundation for the other voices.
The final song in BisCaydence’s set was “Karmastition” by Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder. They definitely had the most fun with it. This song had all the energy and excitement I had been waiting to see from BisCaydence and they really delivered. Alyssa Wilkins brought an R&B flavor with her solo, echoed by fantastic backing from the group. They executed a dramatic slide and then the sopranos came in confidently with a nice standout part. Again, the VP was excellent in this song. It was a great way to end their set.
Next up was the host group of this quarterfinal, University of Florida’s co-ed No Southern Accent. All wearing red sneakers, NSA began with “Time” by Hanz Zimmer before transitioning into a medley of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive/Too Close.” When the group breathed in loudly in unison and held it for four full seconds (yes, I went back and counted), I was completely on the edge of my seat. The solo was less effective in the chorus than in the verses, despite the strong background vocals. Another moment that almost had me out of my seat in the mezzanine was when soloist CJ Wittus literally jumped out from the formation with a deafening scream. The “Too Close” part of the medley was weaker for me than “Radioactive,” but overall a fantastic way to start their set.
NSA’s second song was Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” with soloist Alissa Kotranza. She did a beautiful job on an exceedingly difficult song. I loved how the group backed up the soloist during the chorus with the same words instead of a cappella oohs and ahs. The rap was very intimidating and could have been slightly less jarring. Consistently in their set I felt as though the vocal percussion was too intense, and in this case it took away from the solo. Overall, a very powerful middle song with several distracting moments.
NSA closed with “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers; interestingly, the soloist Elliott Van Mitchell for this piece did the VP in the other two. I loved the build up in the chorus of the song, but there were some blend issues. It was an over-the-top performance with an amazing soprano part near the end as well. Something I was continually impressed by was the commitment of every single member to each precise moment. The choreography and staging was outstanding.
Third to perform was the second group from UF, all-male The Staff, and they began with an arrangement of “Misty Mountains/Some Nights/It’s Time” by Howard Shore, Fun., and Imagine Dragons respectively. The mash-up was incredibly moving and beautiful, and I loved the use of counter-tenor parts. Most impressive was the stand-out bass in the beginning, Jaewon Jang. These are three songs I don’t think I would ever put together, but it was fantastic. Especially loved the stomp and clap portion in “It’s Time.”
The second number began with a nice feature of the vocal percussionist and a great slide into the opening chords of “Lights” by Ellie Goulding. It was an unexpectedly lower solo, especially when considering Ellie Goulding’s airy soprano, but Jeffrey Marsar had some nice falsetto moments in the second verse. The Staff executed a killer key change from another slide that I didn’t see coming at all. There was good dynamic contrast throughout this piece.
Finally, The Staff closed with “No Light No Light” by Florence and the Machine. It was a distinct change from the last high-energy song, but the beat in the chorus pulled it through. I looked for the same drive and movement in this song; it lacked the same energy. Nonetheless, soloist Chris VanDenmark gave a performance that Flo would be proud of, hitting those high notes with ease. This set was one of the best performances from The Staff that I have seen to date.
Fourth in the lineup was the first group from the University of Central Florida, KeyHarmony. They stood out as the first all-female group of the night and began with “Lights” by Ellie Goulding. No one wants to be the group to do a repeat song, but it was an entirely different version with a nice soprano solo that closely matched the original. I could have used more background vocals in the chorus, but there was a strong bass consistently. KeyHarmony was very effective in the use of a bass mic, which tends to be difficult for a girl group. It was good to hear the group back the soloist up on the “calling, calling” part of the chorus and there was a solid breakdown as well.
KeyHarmony changed the pace with “Pretty Handsome Awkward” by The Used with the soloist really working the audience. There were very effective yells in the second verse that didn’t distract from the song as a whole. The group seemed very comfortable with this song and the movement was more natural. It seemed a bit repetitive and I would have liked some more variation in the different parts of the song.
The last piece--“Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons--was absolutely my favorite from their set. The trio featured for the entire song was beautiful and completely together. Again, I have to give major props to the bass for holding down her part, one alto to another. This emotional piece pulled in the audience with a very pure solo from Sarah Zorrilla. I was impressed by the trio and the group’s dynamics, particularly at the very end. It was a beautiful way for KeyHarmony to finish.
University of Central Florida’s co-ed group Gemini Blvd. was the last to go on before intermission, and they made their moment count. They began with an almost choral version of “Shark in the Water” by V V Brown, but picked it up by the first verse. The background vocals were so full and completely blended. Gemini Blvd. took the choreography in a different direction than we had seen all night by incorporating small movements in unison. Soloist Stephanie Trull gave a stunning performance with some great moments to show off her range.
Gemini Blvd. transitioned smoothly into a mash-up of “Skinny Love/Almost Lover” by Bon Iver and A Fine Frenzy, mash-up made in indie heaven. I loved that vocal percussionist Jeff Ting included some different sounds in the beginning to break up the vocals. The addition of the male soloist gave the choruses a nice pull between the two soloists. The group truly came together in the bridge, one of my favorite parts. I had goosebumps for much of the song and was impressed by the purity of the soloist and the group as a whole.
The co-ed group ended their set with an excellent reboot of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Huston mixed with “We Found Love.” Soloist Shayna Kurland did a fabulous job on the key change--wow. This was the first time I got to see Gemini Blvd. really jam out to their music and loosen up. The bass really worked it in this song as well. I was most impressed by how they actually didn’t need to do any serious movement or formation changes in their set; they didn’t need any gimmicks at all, just music. It was incredible to hear a group with that kind of vocal talent.
Coming back from intermission, we were introduced to Florida State University’s, all-male Reverb. I had high expectations for this group, since they won last year when I reviewed, and they didn’t disappoint. They showed all of their personality with “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan featuring “Bad” by Michael Jackson. Soloist Reggie Williams’s voice had every girl in the audience melting. I loved the feature of the bass line in this song during the “Bad” section and the groovy choreography of the whole piece. Those boys can work their falsetto--incredible. There was personality and energy absolutely bursting from every member.
Reverb next took radio pop song “Give Your Heart A Break” by Demi Lovato and turned it into a slower, jazzy piece. I could see the artistic qualities in the arrangement, yet this song wasn’t my favorite. The song improved as it went along, but there were beautiful moments where the chords locked perfectly. This arrangement proved that Reverb is not afraid to take risks, and that they are definitely not going to settle for a typical remake of a Top 40 song. The soloist really let loose at the end of the piece with some excellent riffing.
The final song in Reverb’s set began with soloist Eric Glaze on his own in “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley which became “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé. I loved that the group and the soloist locked eyes as they were switching songs, as if they were surprising the other with the new song. The audience loved the Beyoncé-esque choreography from the guys. The final riffing by the soloist was out of control--it was that good. You know how we’re told at least one person in the audience is looking at you at any time? Well each member of Reverb gave everything the entire time (I checked). I’m constantly impressed with their commitment to performance in addition to stellar vocals. They are definitely a force to be reckoned with.
The biggest surprise of the night was the addition of the Loyola Belles to the lineup of all Florida groups. The Belles drove all the way from Maryland and began the set with a “Paris” medley by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Trick Daddy feat. Lil Jon and Twista. The Grace Potter soloist did a great job with a difficult solo and I really enjoyed the rhythmic background vocals. I wish this group fully committed to the performance aspect of their set. The second song worked fairly well for the background girls, but I was confused by the rap in a higher register. All in all, a nice start to the set from the Belles.
The Belles slowed it down with “At Last” by the great Etta James. This song was another example of a nice solo and sound from the group but not enough energy in the performance. This song is so often performed by soloists, bands and groups that it has to be a particularly impressive arrangement to make it truly work (similar to everything by Coldplay or Lady Gaga in a cappella). There were some rhythm issues near the end, but the soloist brought it home.
To close, the Belles sang “As Long As You Love Me” by both Justin Bieber and Backstreet Boys. This was a mash-up just waiting to happen, but I was a bit disappointed in the actualization. The choreography in this song is a perfect example of how difficult it is for a girl group to be goofy on stage. For whatever reason, we ladies just can’t do it like the all-guy groups can without being awkward. In general, I would have liked to have heard some more of the background vocals. Overall, the Belles have the building blocks for future ICCA performances, but they just need to amp up their performance quality to make it work next time.
The last group of the night was UCF’s second all-female group So Noted. They started a space themed set with “E.T.” by Katy Perry. I enjoyed the higher harmony to the solo in the verses. It’s pretty difficult to replicate anything Katy Perry does., but the soloist belted those higher notes like it was easy. There was a little moment of dubstep in the middle, which worked well. It was a great start to their set and I was impressed by how much the group had grown from last year.
So Noted transitioned into “Starlight” by Muse. The very beginning was a little rough for me, but the girls worked their way into. The background vocals had the chance to stand out during the chorus and it was nicely blended. This had the strongest background vocals of the entire set for the girls. I enjoyed the breakdown of this song; it was well-executed by all parts.
For the final piece of their set, So Noted brought us all back to age 11 with a mash-up of “Outer Space Girl/Supernova Girl” by the Spice Girls and Prota Zoa (from Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century!). Every girl in the audience was singing along “zoom zoom zoom” with soloist Leah Williams in the second half of the mash-up. This was a fun song where the girls got to really groove instead of having a lot of choreography, but the background vocals were lost as a result. Overall, it was a great way to end the competition with the late 90s/early 2000s nostalgia.
What an amazing competition! Having reviewed this same quarterfinal last year, I was a bit apprehensive about seeing the same groups again, but each group really brought something new and impressive this year. The judges’ deliberation seemed to take longer this year, but they had such a difficult decision to make. I know I agonized over my own rankings and changed my predictions several times. My top three places ended up being spot-on. I knew that Reverb and Gemini Blvd. were going to fight it out over that top spot, and then I couldn’t decide between my two UF groups for the third spot. I ended up deciding on No Southern Accent as third because they had a spectacular performance, Gemini Blvd. as second because of their immense vocal strength, and Reverb as the top place because they seemed to be the entire package. Congratulations to all the groups on an incredible competition!
Alexa Gedigian’s Picks:
2. Gemini Blvd.
3. No Southern Accent
Best Solo: Eric Glaze for “Crazy” mash-up
Best Choreography: No Southern Accent
Best Arrangement: The Staff for “Misty Mountains/Some nights/It’s Time”
Best Vocal Percussion: Gemini Blvd.
ICCA Official Results:
2. Gemini Blvd.
3. No Southern Accent
Outstanding Soloist: Gemini Blvd. for “Shark in the Water”
Outstanding Choreography: Alissa Kotranza (No Southern Accent)
Outstanding Arrangement: Reverb for their entire set
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Gemini Blvd. for their entire set